"Please don't tell me you drove up here by yourself," nurse Whitmore points her index finger at me over the info counter when she sees me walking down the hall all by myself.
The first thing I notice on nurse Whitmore, always, is how healthy her skin color looks. Sometimes I can't hide my bitterness, especially during the summer, when she starts tanning like those women on the magazine covers do. Having a tan is not even an option for me, it's strictly forbidden, and I just don't like the idea of fake tanning. So my skin looks snow white all year long, like someone coated it with white paint. I look like I ghost, which is something no one likes me joking about, since I'm so close to becoming one. When I find myself in the sea of tanned people, it looks translucent, I melt with the air.
I smile at her mischievously, teasing her for a bit.
"Don't worry," I say when she refuses to take her hard, judging look off of me, "My friend Bonnie is picking me up afterwards."
"Good. Because you know you shouldn't be driving after having your blood taken out," she finally lowers her finger, alongside her look, and starts going through some papers on the table in front of her, "Actually, you know you - "
"Shouldn't be driving at all," I interrupt her and finish a sentence she was about to say, one I know all to well. She looks at me, irritated by me stealing her words, but also with a decent amount of sorrow because she knows I've heard those words million times too many. "I hear it from my parents every time I leave the house."
They see me as a walking, talking, barely breathing pamphlet for danger to others, and myself, that they sometimes forget I'm just 17 years old and that driving a car is a right of passage.
Nurse Whitmore doesn't take the argument any further and I wonder why do everyone still feel the need to start it up every time.
Her expression changes from worried to cheerful in a split of a second when she asks, "Do you have any plans for tonight?" she bends over the counter to whisper in my ear while shaking her ass lightly to the rhythm of music she probably hears in her head, music unreachable to anyone but her, "Any hot dates?" I laugh out loud, too loud and inappropriate for a hospital, when I see her wiggle her brows and bump her hips against the edge of a table like she's humping someone.
I thank all the heavenly powers this corridor is empty so no one can see us as I answer sarcastically, "Yeah, sure," my laughter dies out and I roll my eyes, "Since all the boys are lining up to date an anemic, dying girl whose bones can handle as much action as their grandmas. Don't forget all the hot bleeding," I wink at her, making a joke out of this, out of my life. This is my reality, and I have accepted it, but other people can't. My parents don't allow me to do things I'm mostly capable of doing, while others think I'm capable of doing things I'm not. I'm stuck in the middle between two types of people who want what's best for me, who think they know what's best for me, but at the same time they keep contradicting themselves.
She rolls her eyes at me. "Don't be so dramatic Elena, you're not dying."
It's true, at this moment, I'm not. But a year ago, I was. And a year from now, I might be dying again. I might start dying again tomorrow.
I don't feel sorry for myself. I used to, in the beginning, when doctors first gave us the news. But that was years ago, I was just hitting puberty, I was feeling sorry for myself because of many things. Pimples. Greasy hair. The fact I'm still the only flat chested girl in my class. Hair, hair everywhere. Blood pouring out of my freaking vagina. Back then, cancer was just one of the things on the list to complain about. But the pimples went away and my hair fell out because of chemo and my boobs grew over the night. I've realized that chocolate and ice cream are a reward for my utters trying to eat me from the inside. All those things came and went as they do for all teenage girls. But the cancer stayed. At one point, it was the only thing on the list, it became my whole life. I stopped going to school, my parents limited the time I got to spend with my friends. I've missed out on so many things like first kisses and parties and sex. So of course I complained. Of course I made a big deal out of it. Of course I made things harder for everyone around me with my self pity. Every sentence that came out of my mouth was somehow connected to my state. It made my family feel horrible, especially my mother, like my health is something she can control. But it was easier on me, the harder it was on her, because it made me feel less alone. I was a 16 year old girl imprisoned by my own body, chained to a bed, either in the hospital or in my room. I wanted to go out there and dance and kiss boys and fail exams and collect pieces of my broken heart along the stony yellow path. My life was a nightmare and no matter how many times I clapped my heels, wishing to go home, everything was always the same after I would open my eyes. Then, one day I woke up, and I just stopped. I stopped being selfish and awful, and I accepted my fate. I realized it's not my fault, but it isn't my mothers fault either. If she could, she would have traded places with me without giving it a second thought. So when my condition got better, I took it as a reward for my good behavior.
But it never went away. They keep reminding me everyday that I'm not a healthy teenage girl. I can't do things other girls my age can. Cancer is still there, inside of me, lurking in the shadows. It didn't free me of its burden, but it gave me time. Sometimes I wonder what for, because I refuse to live. I refuse to fall in love and travel and go to all the parties people keep inviting me to, mostly out of pity. Because if I start living, I won't want to stop. I won't know how. But my time will run out and cancer will wake up again and take me away and it's going to be only harder for me. Harder for everyone else as well. Right now, cancer is like an attack dog, waiting for something to sink its teeth into. I won't give it material to destroy.
So there's a list of things I can't do, things I've forbid myself from doing. It's not long, but it contains things that can change your life. Things that make you want more. I'm not allowed to ask for more, so it's better to stay away from them. People like nurse Whitmore, and my friends, think I should burn that list. They all believe I'm going to get better, now that cancer stopped spreading. 70% of the people recover from this fully and the cancer never returns, nurse Whitmore keeps saying. When you're a 25 year old virgin you're going to regret that list, my friends say through laughter.
But they don't know how it is, to have something grow inside of you. To feel it on your lungs, around your rib cage, trying to get through, to get its pointy ends in your heart and suck the life right out of you. They don't know how it is to have your insides covered in roots.
My family, mostly my parents, tried to stop me from doing things I felt capable of doing. Going back to school, getting my drivers license, even the simple things like going to a library and carrying a stack of books all by myself or, heavens forbid, going to a gym.
"I have a date with Dr. Fell," I say to lighten the gloomy mood whenever the topic of me dying comes up.
"Control yourself Elena, she's married," she yells after me as I push open the swinging door leading to the corridor in which Dr. Fell's ordination is settled.
I smile even though she can't see me anymore. Nurse Whitmore keeps making my trips to the hospital worthwhile. She's the reason I'd keep coming here at least once a week even if I didn't have a reason to anymore. She just started working in the hospital when I got diagnosed. She was working here only a month when they gave her an angry 14 year old girl with cancer spreading like wildfire to handle. She was holding my bucket for me when I puked and caught every bloody towel I threw at her. And there were many. My parents couldn't be at the hospital all the time, so she was there for many of my tantrums, but she was also there when I would finally break down and cry. I learned to trust her with my secrets in a way you trust a friend, so she was the first one to find out about my lists - a list of things I have to stay away from, and a list of things I want to do.
I knock on Dr. Fell's ordination and before my hand gets a chance to drop I hear a friendly come in coming from the inside of the room.
"Hello," I say after I open the door, "It's your favorite patient."
Dr. Fell moves her heavy, brown curls over her shoulder and my throat tightens. The issue of hair is still a sensitive topic for me even though I'm off of chemo for more than a year and my hair is shoulder length now.
She looks up from the paper she's been scribbling on when I walked in and smiles at me. "Hello Elena, I'll be with you in a second."
Dr. Fell is just few years older than nurse Whitmore. I was the youngest patient she ever treated, since I was admitted at the age where I was too old to stay in pediatric section. I knew her sister from school, she was two years older than me, which is why, I guess, Dr. Fell got attached to me more than to her other patients. Because somewhere back in her mind she very well knew her sister could have easily been in this same position. It's funny how people often make those assumptions.
I waited few minutes for her to take care of the paperwork, until she's ready to take my blood out. She asked me how's school, and I said it's fine. She asked me a lot of questions to which I answered fine, just fine. I think she knows nothing is ever really fine with me, but she doesn't say anything. She might like me, or pity me, more than her other patients, but she has managed to maintain a professional relationship with me, unlike her main nurse.
She told me to wait for few minutes until the tests are done. She always leads me through everything even though by now I know every test as well as she does. Maybe that's why I'm rocking my AP Bio.
While I'm waiting for my blood results, which come fairly quickly - go technology and modern medicine - I check my facebook page and twitter profile. Nothing new, as usual. I have a lot of friends and none at the same time. I have only two real friends - Bonnie and Caroline - I guess everyone else are their friends who became my friends because I'm friends with them. I'm not even sure they count as friends, but whatever, everything is relative, especially in high school.
"Your white blood cell count is stable, which is most crucial," from the beginning I've known that white blood cells are my worst enemy. I didn't understand much, but when they would mention white blood cells I knew that's where the action lies. When the news were bad my mother would release a small crying squeal, so that's how I learned to separate bad news from the good news. Unfortunately, my mother squealed and cried a lot. "Red blood cells are in a better shape than they were at the last count, but I worry about your number of platelets," she pulls her lips into a thin line, sucking them dry.
"I get a lot of nose bleeds," I say in a hurry, like I'm ashamed of my platelets.
She raises her look from my results to me, studying my face carefully.
"The other day I had a really big one," I say as the image of two bloody white towels crosses my mind, "We were able to stop it just before my mother pushed me into the car to take me to the ambulance," I remember my mothers horrified expression. I hate knowing how helpless she feels whenever something happens to me, when she's not helpless at all. She always stays calm, even though the drama factor on her side of the family is off the charts. She always knows what to do. She just can't accept the fact that she can't pull this cancer out of me with her own bare hands. She feels responsible for every move my body makes, for all the pain I had to go through. Like she herself created all these blood clots and pushed them through my nose, inside my body.
Dr. Fell keeps looking at me for quite some time, like she's debating on should she trust me or not. Why would I lie about a nose bleed?
"I guess that explains the low count of your platelets," I guess she decides to believe me after all, even though she adds, "But if they go lower the next time, we'll have to do something about it," she looks at me knowingly.
Do something usually means some excruciating medical procedure. I don't even blink at the mention of it since I'm used to it. Maybe she's testing me, if I'm going to change my mind about the story I've just told her. She thinks needles and knives invading my body can scare me. Doesn't she know there are scarier things out there than getting cut to pieces? Like creating memories that will only be a burden on your loved ones once you're gone.
I think about how weird it is that I smile after she says this, grateful that I'm free of this place for one more week. Seven days of no hospitals. Seven days of no needles or stuffy air or white gowns.
"Okay," I hop off the bed, "Am I free to go now?" I ask, checking out the time. I'm late, I told Bonnie I'll be done by 6pm, and it's already ten minutes past six. Bonnie won't complain, no one ever complains when I'm late. But I don't like being late, nor do I like receiving a special treatment like I'm unable to carry out a task just because there are unneeded, murderous things growing inside of me. Bullets can kill you as well, does that mean you should never leave the house in case someone decides to fire one today?
I guess Dr. Fell is still under the effect of the calmness and simplicity by which I take in the news, because there's surprise in her eyes when she answers, "Yes, of course."
I'm already at the door telling her goodbye when she answers. I shout my goodbyes to nurse Whitmore as I sprint down the corridor, and I know she's swallowing the words my mother so often yells after me when I'm late for school. Don't rush Elena.
You can't allow yourself to be in a rush.
We have one rule, my friends and me. We don't talk about the cancer. We don't mention the cancer. The cancer doesn't exist in Bonnie - Elena - Caroline triangle. Our friendship is a cancer free zone. If I get sick, if my nose bleeds, if I puke, if anything connected to the disease happens while I'm with them, there's always some other perfectly reasonable explanation for what just happened.
It was my request, to their dismay, because they often want to ask. I know they do. They have to be curious about how much time I'm left with, or where the cancer is now. I guess I could give them answers they gave me - we don't know and everywhere. But I feel they deserve more than those five words. I feel they deserve more than a sentence, which is not something I can give them. They would have so many questions, questions I don't have an answer to. I've come to realize that young people always do, have a lot of questions, they never stop looking for an explanation. My parents just nod at everything, they take the facts in and deal with them. My brother never did, especially when he was younger. Why did you get sick, Lena? Did you do something wrong? Are you going to die? When you die, am I still going to be able to see you? Where will you live when you die?
I often asked the same questions myself. Why me? Why now? Why this early?
No, Jer, I didn't do anything wrong, at least I don't think so. Yes, I'm going to die, and no, you won't be able to see me. I won't live anywhere.
Where will you go then?
I don't know.
Well, when you get there, will you be able to look for my firetruck? I can't see it, and since I won't be able to see you either, maybe you will be able to see it. Maybe invisible things can see each other.
Sure thing, Jer.
"Sorry for being late," I apologize one more time as Bonnie starts the car up, getting away from the hospitals parking lot and driving into an empty lane.
"It's fine," she says, dismissing my apology, "Caroline is late all the time, which is why I have the stack of CD's in the backseat."
I glance behind me like I want to convince myself the backseat is still full of CD's. I guess you could say Bonnie is in love with music. She doesn't discriminate anything, she listens to literally everything she can get her hands on to. Pop, rock, jazz, punk, classical music. Her love for music goes beyond a certain genre or artist. She loves music because of what she hears even when she's the only one able to hear it.
Caroline likes those funky songs, the ones that make your body move. Ones that make you want to dance even when you're feeling like your bones are falling apart.
Me? I don't really like music. Maybe because I know if I took interest in it, it would occupy me. I would have to listen through every one of Bonnie's CD's, or maybe every CD ever made to conclude what I really like. I don't have that kind of time. I don't really have time to be passionate about anything.
I guess I'm going through life, looking at it through other peoples eyes. I think I'm going to see and learn much more that way. It will feel like I lived longer than I probably will.
"Where are we going?" I ask curiously, even though I know the answer.
Bonnie smiles because she knows I'm faking curiosity. "The Grill," she answers nevertheless.
I groan, falling into our usual conversation of the Friday night fever, "Again?" I whine unnecessarily.
Her smile widens but she keeps the act, "This is Mystic Falls, it's not like we have a choice."
I know all about not having a choice, so her last sentence shuts me up.
I guess that's the reason why I insist on this word play every Friday night, and maybe she knows there's a reason which is why she puts up with it. We have the same old scenario which we go through, one that always ends the same. After she says her last sentence I fall deep into thought about what it would be like to have a choice.
"Something is going on there, though," Bonnie says, pulling me out of my thoughts.
"Oh?" I say, this time genuinely curious. Nothing ever happens at the Grill, except for the parties that are usually planned weeks ahead.
"Yeah, Caroline texted me before you came in, she's not sure what's going on either, she just says something is not right."
I don't ask anymore questions because I know Bonnie doesn't have an answer to any of them. I'll just have to wait until we arrive to find out what's going on. Things rarely happen here, so my curiosity is excusable. Bonnie is probably curious as well, but we're both experts in hiding it. Caroline is another story, she wouldn't be able to hide her excitement to save her own life.
When we arrive to the Grill the parking lot is so full we barely find a free spot. Bonnie and me share a look, allowing ourselves a quick, knowing smile before getting out of the car and rushing towards the door.
The place is crowded, people are pressed against each other. If windows were opened, someone would fall out for sure. The Grill is crowded like it never was before, even though it is the main meeting place. There's smoke everywhere, the air is stuffy and the whole room smells like cigarettes, alcohol and cheese fries. Some song I don't know, which isn't all that surprising, is playing and people are moving slowly to its rhythm. If they moved any faster they would push against each other and there would be a real commotion. I can hear the balls grazing the edges of a pool table, one I can't see from all these people.
We find Caroline in our usual booth, with her nose held high. We know, we know. The music sucks, there's too many people to interact with anyone or to dance, everyone will be drunk before 9pm. She doesn't even have to say anything, we know.
"Hey, Care," Bonnie says as we slip into the booth. She greets us in return, carefully surveying the crowd like she's looking for someone. Probably whichever guy she likes this week.
"What's going on?" I ask hopefully. Maybe she got some new piece of information while we were on our way.
She rolls her eyes, like all of this is a waste of her time. "Some guys came back," she huffs.
Some guys came back? I ask myself disappointingly. That's what the big deal it about? Who are these guys and why are they back? Where did they go to begin with?
Bonnie asks the same question out loud and Caroline shifts her attention from whoever she's looking for, to us.
"Yes. They lived here before, and now they're back. I don't even know what the fuss is about. Some family moved back to Mystic Falls. Boohoo, what's a big deal? Why would anyone move back here, anyway? They better be hot," she says a lot of things at once and I don't know to what to concentrate first.
I want to ask what their names are, but before I get a chance to do so, Caroline leans over the table into my face, "Matt Donovan was asking for you," her smile is so wide it almost wraps around her head.
I furrow my brows, quite irritated by her constant excitement over my non existent love life. "So?"
"So?" she asks as if I've offended her personally and backs away into her seat, "The guy has a crush on you."
"Well, that's a really stupid thing from him to do," I say as if having a crush on me is his own fault. In a way, it is. Everyone know I don't date, which keeps guys away from me. Well, that and cancer.
Caroline seems to be irritated by me. "Why won't you give him a chance?" she hisses through her teeth.
I hiss back at her, even though I'm completely calm. I'm used to these kinds of outbursts from Caroline. "Because I'm not interested."
"Interested in what?" I hear a voice behind me, a voice I know very well. Matt Donovan.
Okay, Matt is hot. He has these clear, baby blue eyes and such perfect hair. Hair many would kill for. Some probably have. He plays football for our school and maybe has a crush on me. At least that's what Caroline says. I've known Matt since forever, but I can quite read him. He's not exactly mysterious, but he's not an open book either.
I'm not interested in starting anything with him, because that would break my number two rule on my not to do list.
2. Don't fall in love.
Which would totally happen, and I don't want my life to turn into a Walk to Remember. I don't want to fall in love with little Matty Donovan and his baby blue eyes, and I certainly don't want him falling in love with me and then me doing something stupid like dying.
"Having a beer," I say. I'm not allowed to drink anyway. A little alcohol couldn't do me any harm but if my mother smelled any of it on me she would call an army and I wouldn't get to leave the house until I agree on going to weekly AA meetings or something.
Matt and his best friend, Tyler Lockwood, slide into the booth next to us. All of a sudden I'm aware who Caroline has been searching for in a crowd.
"Spill," Bonnie says, almost orders, "Who are these mysterious boys?" I can see the curiosity eating her from the inside.
Tyler takes a sip of his beer, right from the bottle, before he answers, "Salvatore brothers. Remember them?"
"Remember?" Caroline squeals and I wonder when did her mood change so drastically. Maybe when Tyler Lockwood assumed his position next to her, or when she heard the Salvatore brothers are back. "Damon Salvatore was the hottest sixth grader in the history of Mystic Falls," she says too loudly, but no one can hear her from the music and the chatter.
Bonnie nods in agreement.
I remember Damon Salvatore. I don't remember him being hot, because at the time I was loyal to my husband number three, Brad Pitt, but I do remember him making my brother eat a worm for a dare and smudging a brownie across my favorite dress, telling everyone he bets I will lick it off as soon as I stay alone. I also remember the rumors he glued Katherine Pierce's hair to the back of her neck so they had to remove it surgically.
"His brother went to class with us," Matt says, "Do you remember Stefan, Elena?" I can feel his eyes on me.
I swallow. "No, not really," I lie.
Of course I remember Stefan Salvatore.
I just hope he doesn't remember me.
We didn't see either of the Salvatore brothers that night. Maybe because the place was too crowded, or maybe because they didn't show up to their own welcome back party, if they even knew one was being held.
Just because I didn't see them doesn't mean they weren't on my mind from the moment they were mentioned, which was weird, especially since I didn't think about either of them since they moved away when we were, like, 10.
It's not like either of them were a big part of my life, even though they were certainly present. They left a mark on me in two very different ways. Damon was the meanest boy I've ever met, while Stefan was the first child who was nice to me when my family first moved to Mystic Falls.
It's not like there's some big story concerning Stefan and me. He wasn't my first love, he wasn't my first kiss. All that ties me to him, and the other way around, are few memories.
I remember him leaving without saying goodbye.
When we first moved here, in the second grade, I had a hard time adjusting. I was chubby, and it wasn't all baby fat, most of it was the fact that I would sneak out of bed at three in the morning and eat Ben&Jerry's with a spoon right out of the freezer. I was wearing pigtails and back then I refused to wear anything but pink. They called me Miss Piggy. I didn't have a lot of friends. Fine, I didn't have any.
Stefan was my first friend here. I just remember that one day he came to me during a recess. I was sitting behind a tree on a playground, eating my cookies. When I saw him standing in front of me I thought he's going to make fun of me. To call everyone to come to see the fat girl eating cookies far from the wandering eyes and mean little tongues. Instead he asked can he have one. He said he likes to glue cookies together with ice cream. Or chocolate cream. I told him I like the same. He asked me to come to his house today after school and that his mom will make some cookies for us. He was careful to tell me his brother won't be home. At first I thought he's playing a prank on me, but I said yes. Because really, what was there to lose? He wasn't playing a prank on me. His mom made us cookies and we ate them with ice cream and chocolate cream until we were full. He almost ate as much as me, which never happened.
He wasn't my best friend, we didn't even hang out that much in the short time we knew each other. But he was my first friend here in Mystic Falls, a first kid to be nice to me, and maybe we weren't best of friends, but we were still friends.
But just as he didn't have that much of an effect on me back then, he won't have it now. We were just kids and now we're strangers, and that's all we're ever going to be. Anything more would break rule seven on my not to do list.
7. Don't let anyone new in your life.
Still, when I came home that evening I've pulled my curtains closer together because tonight, for the first time after a while, there's light lit up in the house across from ours.
AN: Hello, hello, and welcome to my new story. What do you think so far? Should I continue it?